chlorhexidine: (Iggy)
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Ignis awoke on Solstice morning with Gladio coiled more tightly around him than usual. A leg twisted and locked around and between his own, one arm rested under his waist and coiled upwards to hold his shoulder, its partner draped over his side and across his chest, resting idly on the pillow knuckles just barely brushing his nose. Gladio's chest was pressed against the whole of his back, and his morning erection was unmissable.

Ignis wouldn't have been able to escape even if he'd had the urge, but with Gladio all but clinging to him, the urge was absent regardless. He stroked his fingers over the hand near his face, pushing his fingertips between the knuckles until they slid through and curled into Gladio's palm. He didn't know what Gladio dreamt of at night to hold him so close; he'd always held him, always been one to pin Ignis to the bed in his sleep with his weight, but lately....

Ever since they'd arrived back at the Amicitia estate Gladio had clung in his sleep. He slept with his face tucked in against the back of Ignis's neck, and held him, not like a child's favoured toy, but like if he didn't then Ignis wouldn't be there. He'd remained his usual self in his waking hours, and claimed no memory of his dreams, but it was hard not to presume Gladio's sleep was troubled by something.

The environment, perhaps? They shared Gladio's old bed, in his old room, with old scents and sounds to lull them to sleep. Ignis had found it unnerving, the sense that he shouldn't be caught in this room refusing to leave him for the first few nights, and Gladio pinning his wrists into the bed and making him cry out in his ecstasy hadn't helped. Gladio had confessed to having harboured myriad fantasies, some of them idle, many of them far from it, back before Ignis had become rightfully his which included making ferocious love to him in this bed in the desperate desire to stake a claim on at least a part of Ignis even if he couldn't have the whole of him.

“You had already laid claim to a part of me,” Ignis had said, after the confession which had come through a grin that was meant to hide the self conscious embarrassment and utterly failed because Ignis knew Gladio much too well now. He'd taken Gladio's hand, a gesture which still sent a thrill of warmth though him even now, and set it over his heart, and told Gladio, “This has been yours since you handed me that book, and I'd harboured a helpless affection for you for much longer than that.”

Gladio had looked at him, as if it had been the first he'd known, and how it could be the first he'd known still eluded Ignis, and then pressed in to take a kiss, their fingers locking together. He'd taken Ignis that way. The slow and gentle press of mouths and hands and limbs had become more feverish, more pointed, until Gladio had been settled inside Ignis, no barrier between them but the sweat on their skin. He'd found Ignis's hands, and pressed him into the bed, and then set to making love to him at a pace that increased until Ignis could only hold back his cries by holding his breath, limbs shaking around Gladio as Gladio finally came, and then stroked Ignis to completion while still buried inside him.

There had been knowing looks from some of the collars Ignis had once worked with, and Ignis had held his head tall and borne it. There was no shame to be found in being a Companion, and less shame still in loving one's master with every molecule of breath in one's lungs. Gladio loved him in kind; Ignis had realised that shortly after they'd moved to Insomnia. Gladio had taken his hand on the balcony, and just held it, for the sake of it, while looking out at the stars with him, and Ignis had never known a greater happiness.

He pressed Gladio's palm to his lips and sighed, being careful not to move his head lest he headbutt Gladio. It took a few moments before there was a murmur from Gladio, the sleep-ridden groan of someone that isn't yet awake. The arms around him tightened, squeezing him in lieu of the space to tug him back, and there was another, happier, answering groan. “You're the best hot water bottle,” Gladio mumbled, nuzzling his face into Ignis's hair and taking a deep sniff.

“That makes a change from calling me your alarm clock,” Ignis replied, his voice a soft murmur in deference to Gladio's newly found wakefulness.

“Still the cutest one of those, too,” Gladio answered, pressing a kiss to the bare skin at the base of Ignis's neck.

“Aren't I multi-talented?” Ignis replied, teasing amusement coming through as Gladio pressed another hot kiss to the back of his neck. Then shifted his whole body so he could press his mouth between Ignis's shoulderblades and make his breath hitch.

It earned a pleased rumble from Gladio, and an, “You're not the only one.”

Gladio peppered Ignis's back in kisses, his hands moving down to grip Ignis's hips before he finally moved, rolling Ignis onto his back so he could lavish the same attention on Ignis's throat instead. They'd made love first thing in the morning before. If Ignis was honest, it was his preferred time were it not for a couple of unfortunate factors. One was that Gladio never let him wash and brush his teeth first, and the other was that Gladio didn't attend to those things either. Gladio had taken him in the shower, Ignis's hands or back braced against cold tiles, or over the kitchen counter, but that was when he'd changed his mind after letting Ignis leave the bed unmolested.

On mornings like this, Ignis wasn't permitted to leave the bed in the first place. If he protested, of course, if he claimed not to be in the mood, or to be aching too much from the night before, or to be in need of getting up early because he had to attend classes, or Gladio had to attend work, Gladio would clamp down on his libido and let Ignis slip free. The permission Ignis needed to leave the bed didn't come from Gladio, but from himself, and on mornings like this, he may be feeling a little grubby, and their breath may not be the freshest, but the press of Gladio's mouth was too sweet to deny, and the brush of his fingers too tempting to resist. He had to enjoy himself sometimes, and do what was pleasurable in defiance of what was proper, and having lazy, tender sex with Gladio before either of their feet had touched the carpet was improper, but also utterly decadent.

Morning breath and sleep musk notwithstanding.

They found ways around it. They always did. Gladio kissed at Ignis's throat in lieu of his mouth, and Ignis breathed his affections and urgings for more, and harder and there, god Gladio right there, yes, against the shell of Gladio's ear, until his head fell back into the pillows and his fingers clawed at Gladio's shoulders. Gladio would spill his pleasure inside him, and Ignis's own would splash against Gladio's hand mere moments later, and only once they'd got their breath back and disentangled their limbs would they shower, usually together.

Ignis ran his fingers through Gladio's hair as his breath came back to him and Gladio mouthed sated kisses against his collarbone. “Happy Solstice,” he said, watching the dark hair flow between his fingers.

Gladio murmured, happily at first, and then a cloud drifted over his mood as he asked, “What time you heading to the kitchen?”

Ignis murmured, turning to eye the clock at the far bedside, and squinting at it without his glasses. The numbers were blurred, the hands difficult to see between his myopia and the dim light, but they were discernible with some concentration. “You have me for another couple of hours yet,” he answered, settling back into the bed. “I'm helping with dinner, not running the kitchen. I'll make sure I'm back for sunset.”

“You'd better,” Gladio replied, nuzzling into Ignis's neck. “I got you something.”

Ignis felt his heart stutter. “You shouldn't have,” he said, quietly. “I have nothing to give in return.” Solstice presents were a tradition even Collars observed. Presents were exchanged once the darkness fell, candles were lit, songs were sang, and feasts were had. Collars had little enough to give, but they found their ways. The girls usually exchanged ribbons for their hair, and boys would swap clothing that still had wear in it. Some of the older collars, like Jared, would make little straw dolls from the hay from the stables, or toy swords with sticks fallen from trees in the grounds for the youngest Collars. The masters usually gifted them food, allowing the kitchen Collars to raid the master's stores to feed the Collar population for a day.

“Your time's enough,” Gladio said, and his hand found Ignis's again and made Ignis's throat feel tight as emotion at the gesture welled like a geyser on the verge of gushing. “You're the best present you could give me.”

Ignis swallowed over the lump in his throat and trailed his fingers down the curved muscle of Gladio's back. “Then every day is Solstice,” he answered, quietly.

They'd risen, then, and brushed their teeth, and Gladio had finally bestowed the kisses Ignis knew he'd been desperate to press to Ignis's mouth while they showered, hands wandering but nothing more. Gladio smirked at him like a predatory cat spying a caged canary as he'd brushed his hand over the curve of Ignis's rear and then lingered there, and Ignis had given him a smack to the back of his hand before making Gladio turn around so Ignis could scrub his back for him. Gladio washed Ignis's hair, and Ignis, clad in nothing more than a towel after, had perched himself on Gladio's lap to carefully trim his beard for him.

Breakfast was a family affair, with Ignis being seated to Gladio's left, and Iris across the table, facing them both. Then Ignis said his farewells, regret bubbling in his chest at the disappointment on Gladio's face as he parted from him for the day, and made his way below stairs and to the once familiar kitchens.

At Solstice the previous year, Ignis had been holed up in the kitchen from six in the morning, with Talcott and Jared on timer duty. Scullery collars had been in and out, helping to keep the place from turning into a disaster, but it had been nearly midnight before Ignis and Talcott had been able to leave. The thing the masters forgot, Ignis knew, had always known, was that the kitchens provided for everyone resident on the estate, and not just the high table.

He opened the door without knocking, wafting the aroma of freshly baked cakes into the corridor. Not much had changed, he saw, and the aching familiarity of the room made him temporarily nostalgic.

“Ignis!” Talcott shouted, almost abandoning the cake he was setting to cool to greet him. Ignis waved a hand at him, and turned his attention to the new chef.

He was older than himself, Ignis realised, though not by much. Older by enough that the frown seemed etched into his face instead of merely worn. He looked at Ignis through sharp eyes, his nose twitching in a badly restrained sneer. The clothes he wore were thin, washed and worn perhaps a hundred times over. They may not have even been new when they'd been given to him. The shirt looked marginally too big, and the trousers had been turned up.

Ignis stood there, in his coloured shirt, and his pressed trousers, and shined shoes, with his delicate collar around his throat, and for the first time it dawned on him the transformation Gladio had wrought on his life. His clothes were always new, now, and a stain that was tricky to wash out was reason to discard a shirt, not scrub it to the best of his ability and hand it off to another collar if it didn't come truly clean.

He must look like a truly spoiled Companion to the new chef, he realised. Or worse, like a spoiled and jumped up housecollar that has gotten above their rightful station.

“So you're Ignis.” The new chef's voice was lower than his own, higher than Gladio's, and his accent was different. With more experience with other Collars, Ignis might have been able to tell where he'd originated. The way he said Ignis's name made it sound as if he'd heard it all too often before.

Ignis nodded his head, just the once. “I fear they've neglected to give me your name,” he said.

The chef huffed, as if this didn't surprise him. Ignis felt a fresh burst of sympathy for the man that had been sent in to replace him. They really had spent his whole time with them making comparisons. “It's Sorrel,” he said.

“Named for your training,” Ignis said, softly, bowing his head once more. “I see.” Little wonder he sounded so sharply bitter, then. Here was a Collar that had been trained, likely from a young age, to cook. He'd been named for the skill, even, and then he'd arrived here, and taken over from someone that had learned on the job, and received nothing but scorn for the differences.

“Yeah,” Sorrel replied, his scowl deepening. “So,” he said, shortly, “are you here to swoop in and save Solstice?”

Ignis regarded Sorrel for a long moment. Here he stood, a Collar in nice clothes, and nice shoes, and smelling of nice soap, a Collar who, by dint of one freeman's affection, had been taken out of the kitchen, up from below the stairs, and brought out into the wider world, to experience education, and culture, and love, and his replacement, in the worn clothes, and routine that involved waking before dawn even on the days that dawn was so early it had barely been night at all, was angry that Ignis was being offered this taste of his old life.

Ignis smiled, closing his eyes and shaking his head slightly. “I had thought,” he said, “to help you feed the household. The masters are yours to serve.” Sorrel looked at him, looking as if he was trying to gauge the truth of Ignis's words. Ignis hazarded a small smile, “I'd also be happy to do any cleaning you may require.”

Sorrel seemed taken aback, if subtly so. “Cor said you'd be cooking the master's meal,” he ventured, eventually. There was a query in his tone.

Ignis smirked. “Time with my master has taught me something invaluable to know,” Ignis replied, stepping forward and beginning to roll up his sleeve. “Cor is not always right.”

Ignis had agreed to help with the Solstice day preparations in the kitchens, he'd explained, while he glazed sixty chicken drumsticks in a sticky smoked sauce. Cor had asked just after he'd moved to Insomnia, and at the time, Ignis hadn't known how to refuse. He'd learned since, of course, Companion training had been useful for boosting his confidence with Gladio, but mostly it had taught Ignis the many varying ways that existed to tell someone no without causing offence.

If he'd known it when Cor had first asked, Ignis would have refused, and the matter would be done. Of course, that wouldn't help to resolve Sorrel's current problem, which was that he was catering to a household that had been fond of Ignis. That was, Ignis posited, the problem at its core. It wasn't that Ignis was the better chef; he wasn't, and if Sorrel would like to pass on some of his recipes once Ignis was safely ensconced back in Insomnia, Ignis would be highly appreciative. It was that Iris was fond of Ignis, and felt that voicing approval of a new chef's food would somehow be a disservice to him.

Clarus, Ignis had noticed, neither disparaged nor complimented the food, and Cor, aware of how Collars gossiped and how feedback found its way back to the kitchens, had kept his opinions to himself. They were all accustomed to the way Ignis did things, but that didn't mean that Ignis's methods were better.

Allow them all to think that Ignis had assisted with their meals, and perhaps they'd review their opinions. It had been long enough since Iris, Clarus, and Cor had eaten anything prepared by Ignis that the simple suggestion that his hand had been involved might be enough.

Sorrel had harrumphed at first, when Ignis had explained his intentions, and the reasons. Talcott had called it genius, and laughed. It wasn't until lunch time when the pace of preparation and cleaning subsided for a spell that Sorrel seemed to begin to warm to him.

Ignis placed a plate in front of him, and a cup of coffee. Sorrel looked up at him as if he'd grown an extra head.

“The only time I ever ate lunch,” Ignis said, quietly, “was when Master Gladio or Miss Iris would subject me to their presence. It's important you eat and drink, especially on a day as busy as this.”

Sorrel had looked down at the leg of lamb he was massaging with oil, and spearing with rosemary. “I'm busy,” he'd said.

“I can take over that while you replenish.”

He had, and Sorrel had taken a seat at the table, savouring the coffee while Ignis put the meat in to roast, and washed up. He turned his hand next to chopping the vegetables, lost in the nostalgic busyness of the task. Gladio used to infringe on his personal space and help Ignis make preparations like this. It had been the start of Ignis's infatuation with him, and the act now still brought a smile to Ignis's mouth.

“They're not wrong, you know,” Sorrel had said, quietly, as he'd slipped in next to Ignis and began helping to whittle down the pile. “You are pretty good.”

Ignis felt his pride expand like a balloon, but he kept his modesty about him. “It was just a sandwich,” he said.

“You got the right ratio of filling to dressing,” Sorrel said, his voice remaining quiet, but there was a warmth to it that had been absent before, “and just the right amount of seasoning.”

“Thank you,” Ignis said, unable to help the smile that drew itself across his face.

They worked together to prepare the miniature cakes for the estate's Collars, and Ignis decorated the cake for the main table while Sorrel blended the soup that would start the meal. At three thirty Ignis bade Sorrel and Talcott luck, and happy Solstice before he left to return to Gladio as promised.

The family were gathered in the ballroom, whose windows faced out on three sides and gave an unrivalled view of the sunset. Snow was falling outside, and the sky was lit up red at the horizon. Ignis placed himself wordlessly by Gladio's side, and then noticed that he'd changed his clothes, and the ends of his hair were damp.

“Whatever have you been up to?” he asked.

Gladio slung an arm around his shoulders and pulled him in close for a hug before he answered, “Snowball fight. Iris cheats.”

“Do not!” The protest was backed up by a protruding tongue, and Gladio returned it in kind.

Ignis shook his head. For all he'd enjoyed his time in the kitchen, and for all that Gladio and Iris were old enough to know better, he still felt a pang at what he'd missed. “If you catch a chill, don't expect me to nurse you.”

Gladio gave a grumble of disapproval and dragged Ignis in tightly while he bent and nuzzled at his neck. “You wouldn't keep me warm and feed me soup?” Ignis squirmed as Gladio's fingers at his waist rippled along the bottom of his ribs in an undeniable attempt to tickle, and he fought to push himself free.

There was a pointed clearing of someone's throat, and Ignis looked up to look straight into Cor's disapproving expression, and Clarus's rather more amused one. Gladio straightened up, tucking his hands behind his back as he set his shoulders back and answered the cleared throat in kind.

Cor looked back towards the window, and Ignis saw Gladio glance sidelong at the back of his head before sticking his tongue out at that, too. Ignis bowed his head and smiled, swallowing his amusement. Iris, conversely, giggled.

“There,” Clarus said, watching the sun dip below the horizon. “Happy Solstice.”

“Can we have presents now?” Iris asked, eagerly. Ignis felt fingers brush against the palm of his hand before they curled around the back of it, and squeezed tenderly. He squeezed back without looking. “I've been waiting all day!”

Clarus sighed, fondly exasperated with his daughter, but he nodded. “Yes, I suppose it's time,” he agreed. “Come along.”

He led the way, and Cor lingered a moment, giving Gladio and Ignis a raised eyebrow when they made no move. Gladio only flashed him a smile, “We'll only be a minute,” he said.

Cor left after Clarus and Iris, who all but skipped on her way, and then Gladio pulled Ignis into a tight hug. Ignis wrapped his arms around Gladio and sighed, letting it go on. “I missed you,” Gladio said, into his hair. “Next year you're staying with me, okay?”

“That's fine by me,” Ignis replied. He leaned back when he felt Gladio's hand at his cheek, and closed his eyes when Gladio bent down to take a kiss that lasted longer than the minute he'd promised Cor.

Gladio parted from Ignis reluctantly, and stroked his thumb over Ignis's cheek again before he said, “Here.” Ignis looked down at the box Gladio pulled from his pocket. “Don't want to give it you in front of Cor,” he said, “and I don't want to wait, either.”

“You really shouldn't have,” Ignis said, softly, as Gladio pressed the small box into his hand.

“Too late now,” Gladio replied. Ignis opened it, and saw a charm resting on a chain. “It's supposed to protect you,” Gladio supplied, looking down at Ignis from much too close. Ignis could feel his body heat.

“It's a necklace,” he said, redundantly. It would have been redundant, had it not been for the fact that Collars were not allowed to wear necklaces.

“It'll attach to your collar,” Gladio said, clearly having considered this. Ignis was almost impressed that he had. Gladio usually stumbled his way through social conventions, breaking them, or flouting them without any real awareness of what he was doing. “I just,” Gladio said, and trailed off. Ignis looked up at him, green eyes so close to beautiful amber that it was almost uncomfortably intimate. Gladio swallowed. “After what happened to me,” he said, quietly, “the thought of you getting caught up in anything like that,” he trailed off again, and this time Ignis didn't need him to continue.

Ignis reached up on his tiptoes, his empty hand landing at the back of Gladio's neck as he took a sweet and lasting kiss. Gladio leaned into it, and let himself be kissed. He stayed, half stunned as Ignis settled back down onto the flat of his feet. “Thank you,” Ignis said, softly.

Gladio bit his lip, giving Ignis an awkward, boyish smile that was thoroughly irresistible, and then slung his arm around Ignis's shoulders. “Come on,” he said, “I wanna see Iris's face when she finds out what she's getting.”

They arrived in the parlour in time to see Iris be handed a box. She looked down at it, and opened the lid, and then promptly squealed and flung herself at her father. “Can I have a boy?” she asked, jumping back and hopping on the spot in her excitement.

“No,” Clarus answered.

“No fair,” Iris protested, “Gladdy got a boy!”

“Gladio is a boy,” Clarus pointed out, giving them a brief glance. “Cor will be going with you for you to choose, but there will only be females for you to choose from.”

Iris made an exaggerated noise of disappointment, and then she looked at Gladio and Ignis and recommenced her bouncing. “I'm getting a Collar!” she cried, almost running on the spot.

“A bodyguard,” Cor said, his hands clasped behind his back.

“Still a Collar,” Iris replied, “and they'll be all mine! Isn't it great?”

“I'm pleased for you, young miss,” Ignis said, while Gladio grinned like a shark next to him.

There were other presents to exchange, then. Gladio gave his father a case of Insomnia's best wine, and received a leatherbound set of his favourite novels in return. Ignis was not the only Collar to receive a gift from his master, either. Cor was given a new personal grooming set, with a straight razor sharp enough to peel a grape cleanly.

After the gifts, they made their way to the dining room, where Solstice dinner was ready to be served. Ignis wore an indulgent smile as Iris complimented the food and made appreciative noises, though he caught a look or two from Cor through the course of the meal. No one else seemed aware that anything was amiss, however, and when the cake was finally brought out, with Ignis's unmistakable decorating, even Cor stopped giving him suspicious looks.

“How was the meal?” Ignis asked, when they'd finally done, and even Clarus was settled back in his chair with a satisfied smile on his face. “It's been some time since I catered for more than my master and myself,” he added.

“It seems you haven't lost your touch,” Clarus said, looking utterly satisfied.

Iris grumbled. “Can't you stay a bit longer?”

Ignis smiled, bowing his head slightly. “You don't require me to,” he said.

“You didn't cook anything on the table, did you?” Cor asked, giving Ignis a calculating look.

Ignis flashed him a smile. “I did,” he answered, “but not all of it. If you can't discern what was my work, and what was that of Sorrel, I hardly think you require me.”

Gladio looked at Ignis, a smirk on his face. “That was the plan?” he asked.

“Indeed.”

“Well then,” Clarus said, looking at Cor, “make sure you pass the table's compliments on to Sorrel.”

Cor gave a nod. “Yes, sir.”

Iris stared across the table at Ignis. “The cake,” she said, with a jab of her finger.

“Merely decorated by me.”

“The soup,” she decided.

“I had no hand at all in that.”

“The lamb?”

“A joint effort.”

“A-ha,” she replied, triumphantly, pointing a finger at Ignis.

“None of my part involved the cooking,” Ignis answered, with a smile. “You may continue to name various individual aspects if you wish, but at three wrong answers, I think it safe to say you can't discern, miss.”

Iris gave a disappointed groan and folded her arms. Next to him, Gladio laughed, his hand finding Ignis's knee under the table and giving a gentle squeeze.

“Well,” Clarus said, smiling at his daughter, “with that settled, shall we play some games?”

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